Best Airline Credit Cards of 2020

Enjoy stronger rewards on flights by choosing the right card for your travel needs.

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If you’re loyal to any one airline, choosing the right credit card can make all the difference when it comes to your travel experience. Some cards will give you access to airport lounges, points that can be used on flights and hotels, companion certificates and more. There’s an airline credit card out there for every type of traveler, and there are a lot of options to sift through.

To help you determine which airline credit card is the right fit for you, we assembled our top picks. Compare cards based on your specific travel needs, learn more about how airline cards work and comb through expert advice.

Best airline credit cards

Quick look: Best airline credit cards

Best for earning points from airlines
The Platinum Card® from American Express

670
Min. credit score
$550
Annual fee
60,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 5x
Points
The Platinum Card® from American Express has a steep $550 annual fee, but it offers a stellar 5x points on flights as well as prepaid hotels you book through Amex Travel. It also comes with premium benefits such as access to the Global Lounge Collection, an annual airline fee credit and gold status in the Marriott and Hilton loyalty programs.

Pros
  • Membership reward points. Earn 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels booked directly through Amex Travel. You can use your points toward gift cards, travel rewards, statement credit and more. If you redeem these points for the highest valued rewards, you'll get 5% back. On all other eligible purchases, you'll earn 1x points.
  • Welcome offer. Get 60,000 membership rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of card membership. That's up to $1,200 worth of rewards when transferred to travel partners.
  • Airline fee credit. Select a qualifying airline and receive a $200 airline fee credit each year to cover incidental charges, such as checked bags or in-flight purchases.
Cons
  • Annual fee. Expect to pay $550 for the card. This may seem like a lot, but if you travel often, you can easily offset the fee.
Annual fee $550
Purchase APR N/A
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 60,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 3 months
Rewards 5x points on directly-booked flights or on flights and hotels on Amex Travel. 1x points on all other purchases

Find out more ways to transfer airline miles between programs

Best for United
United℠ Explorer Card

670
Min. credit score
$95 ongoing
Annual fee
60,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 2x
Miles
The midtier United℠ Explorer Card offers great value for its price. Beyond typical airline-specific perks, you'll find accelerated rewards on restaurant purchases and hotel stays, as well as a credit for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.

Pros
  • Signup bonus. Earn 60,000 bonus miles after you make $3,000 in purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Rewards. Earn 2x miles on United purchases, eligible hotel stays and restaurant spending. Earn 1x miles on all other purchases.
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit. Get up to $100 credit once every for years to cover for your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.
Cons
  • Earning restrictions. You may not earn your 2x miles when you purchase tickets through third party flights.
Annual fee $0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Purchase APR 17.99% to 24.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
Rewards 2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1x miles on all other purchases

Compare United Airlines credit cards

Best for Delta
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

670
Min. credit score
$550
Annual fee
80,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 3x
Miles
This card has a higher annual fee after its January 2020 revamp, but it's become more valuable. On top of the new Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit, it offers increased rewards on Delta purchases and accelerated rewards at hotels, restaurants and US supermarkets.

Pros
  • Welcome offer. Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you make $5,000 in eligible purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening. Then you earn another 20,000 bonus miles after your first card member anniversary.
  • Rewards. Earn 3x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on other eligible purchases.
  • Airport lounge access. Get complimentary access to all Delta Sky Clubs when flying with Delta, which otherwise costs $59 for a single visit. If you visit Delta Sky Clubs once a month, that's $708 savings per year. Also, you get access to The Centurion® Lounge when you book your Delta flight with your card.
Cons
  • Annual fee. You'll pay $550 annually to use this card.
Annual fee $550
Purchase APR 15.74% to 24.74% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 80,000 miles and 20,000 MQMs after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months, plus 20,000 miles after your first anniversary
Rewards 3x miles on direct Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases

Compare all Delta credit cards

Best for Southwest
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

670
Min. credit score
$149
Annual fee
40,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 2x
Points
This is the highest-priced Southwest credit card, but you can offset the annual fee with the yearly $75 travel credit and the 7,500 anniversary points you get each year (valued around $75). You can also find great value from the priority boarding and the generous welcome offer.

Pros
  • Signup bonus. Earn 40,000 points after you make $1,000 in purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening. [fin_hide]Plus, you'll earn an additional 35,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months.[/fin_hide]
  • Rewards. Earn 2x points on Southwest Airlines purchases and spending with hotel and car rental partners. Earn 1x points on all other purchases.
  • Southwest Airlines perks. Get four Upgraded Boarding passes each year, $75 annual travel credit and 7,500 bonus Southwest points each card anniversary.
Cons
  • Annual fee. You'll pay $149 annually to use this card.
Annual fee $149
Purchase APR 17.49% to 24.49% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
Rewards 2x points on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rentals and 1x points on all other purchases

Compare Southwest Airlines credit cards

Best for American Airlines
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

670
Min. credit score
$99 ongoing
Annual fee
50,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 2x
Miles
The midtier AAdvantage card offers 2x miles on American Airlines purchases and on restaurant and gas spending. You'll get access to useful American Airlines perks, as well as flight discounts after meeting annual spend requirements and renewing your card.

Pros
  • Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after you make $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Rewards. Earn 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, on gas and restaurant purchases. Earn 1x miles on all other purchases.
  • American Airlines perks. Get first checked bag free and preferred boarding on American Airlines itineraries, plus 25% savings on eligible in-flight food and beverage purchases, and a $125 flight discount when you spend $20,000 or more in a cardmembership year.
Cons
  • Taxes and fees. You're on the hook for $30 per person in taxes and fees for your flight.
Annual fee $0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
Purchase APR 15.99% to 24.99% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months
Rewards 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and restaurants and 1x miles on all other purchases

Compare American Airlines credit cards

Best for lounge access
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

670
Min. credit score
$550
Annual fee
80,000
Miles welcome offer
Up to 3x
Miles
Amex increased this card's annual fee in January 2020, but it's added attractive perks for the price. A highlight is complimentary access to The Centurion Lounges with an eligible Delta flight, and you'll still get complimentary access to Delta Sky Club lounges.

Pros
  • Welcome offer. Earn 80,000 bonus miles and 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you make $5,000 in eligible purchases with your card within the first 3 months of account opening. Then you earn another 20,000 bonus miles after your first card member anniversary.
  • Rewards. Earn 3x miles on Delta purchases and 1x miles on other eligible purchases.
  • Airport lounge access. Get complimentary access to all Delta Sky Clubs when flying with Delta, which otherwise costs $59 for a single visit. If you visit Delta Sky Clubs once a month, that's $708 savings per year. Also, you get access to The Centurion® Lounge when you book your Delta flight with your card.
Cons
  • Annual fee. You'll pay $550 annually to use this card.
Annual fee $550
Purchase APR 15.74% to 24.74% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 80,000 miles and 20,000 MQMs after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months, plus 20,000 miles after your first anniversary
Rewards 3x miles on direct Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases

Best for travel credits
Chase Sapphire Reserve®

740
Min. credit score
$550
Annual fee
50,000
Points welcome offer
Up to 10x
Points
While reactions to the Chase Sapphire Reserve®'s annual-fee increase has been mixed, the card still boasts an impressive and flexible annual travel credit.

Pros
  • Signup bonus. Earn 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in your first 3 months of card membership. This is worth $750 if you redeem through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
  • Earn rewards points. Earn 3x points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and 1x points on all other purchases. The 3x points can be worth 4.5% back if redeemed on travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards. You also earn 10x points on Lyft purchases until March 2022. This can be worth up to 15% back in travel purchases via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
  • Annual travel credit. Get $300 in statement credit as reimbursement for your travel purchases every year on your card account anniversary.
Cons
  • Annual fee. Awesome perks come with a high annual fee. You'll pay $550 annual fee for the card.
Annual fee $550
Purchase APR 18.49% to 25.49% variable
Foreign transaction fee None
Welcome offer 50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
Rewards 10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases

Methodology

We looked at a variety of factors consumers might consider when selecting an airline rewards credit card, including the particular airline, earning rates, possible rewards, redemption values and additional perks or benefits associated with traveling. Those cards that stood out above the rest in a particular category, or served a specific niche, were chosen for our list.

What’s changed in 2020

This year is notable for annual-fee increases to multiple airline cards. While the Chase Sapphire Reserve® might not offer enough perks to match its new annual fee, the revamped Delta cards offer clearer value to justify their higher prices.

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  • Why trust us? We spend hundreds of hours each week reading and writing about the latest in credit card news. We know whether a card is a must have, great for a specific kind of consumer or one that just doesn’t make the cut. It’s not always easy to pick the right card – especially a type as varied as airline cards – so want to share our knowledge and help consumers find the best card for their needs. Our strict editorial guidelines ensure that our content is unbiased, accurate and best serves the needs of the reader.

Compare cards by airline

American Airlines logoDelta logoSouthwest-Logounited-airlines-Logo

Our pick for an airline credit card

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Earn a $125 American Airlines Flight Discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your cardmembership year and renew your card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation
  • Enjoy preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.99% - 24.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
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Compare airline credit cards

Many airlines offer cobranded credit cards with airline-specific perks. If you fly with different carriers, you might like a general travel card instead.

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months
2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, at gas stations and restaurants and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
Earn 50,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in the first 3 months.
Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card
60,000 miles after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, plus 10,000 miles after your first anniversary
2x miles on Delta purchases, restaurants and at US supermarkets and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($99 thereafter)
With a welcome offer worth up to $980, plus rewards on everyday purchases and Delta flights, this card offers value even for occasional flyers. Rates & fees
United℠ Explorer Card
60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
2x miles at restaurants, hotels and United and 1x miles on all other purchases
$0 intro annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
CardMatch™ from creditcards.com
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Use the CardMatch tool to find cards you're likely to qualify for with your credit score, without a hard pull on your credit.
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
80,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months plus 20,000 miles after your first card anniversary
3x miles on Delta and direct hotel purchases, 2x miles at restaurants and US supermarkets and 1x miles for all other purchases
$250
Earn 80,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months plus 20,000 miles after your first card anniversary. Rates & fees

Compare up to 4 providers

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Let’s break down how airline credit cards work

An airline credit card typically offers rewards for airline purchases, usually in the form of airline miles. You can redeem these miles on flights or other related purchases, such as seat upgrades.

Airline cards tend to come in two varieties: cobranded cards that are associated with a specific airline, and general airline cards. A cobranded card usually offers more perks or earning potential for that specific airline, which can play a significant role in how you pick an airline card.

1. Compare & apply for a card

Look at cobranded and general airline cards that fit your airline preferences and apply like normal.

2. Earn miles

Once you receive your card, use it on categories that earn you the most miles. Cobranded cards tend to reward the most miles for purchases made with that specific airline.

3. Redeem miles

Once you’ve earned enough miles for a flight, you can book one through your credit card account or the frequent flyer program associated with your credit card.

How to compare airline credit cards

Aside from the card’s APR, here are a few important features to compare when selecting an airline credit card:

Airline

If you prefer flying a certain airline, look for a cobranded card that offers rewards specific to that company. Otherwise, a general travel card can help you earn on all airlines.

Annual fee

Airline credit cards often feature annual fees to offset the various perks they offer.

Signup bonus

Many airline cards offer a mileage signup bonus when you spend within the set requirements. This bonus can easily pay for a roundtrip flight, depending on your destination and class.

Earning categories

Cobranded cards tend to earn the most miles on purchases associated with that airline. If you plan on using your card for day-to-day purchases, consider a card that earns miles on those purchases.

Perks

Both types of travel cards can offer a variety of perks, including free breakfast, upgraded rooms, statement credits or concierge service access.

Foreign transaction fees

Many airline cards forgo foreign transaction fees, though that’s not a guarantee. Make sure to check if you plan on using your card abroad.

When is an airline credit card worth it?

An airline credit card is worth a spot in your pocket if you travel frequently enough to take advantage of the perks and rewards. In most cases, the question is whether you’ll be able to overcome the card’s annual fee, should it have one, and whether you spend enough in a card’s best categories to make it worth it.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, for example, requires a $149 annual fee for use. Meeting the card’s welcome offer within the first three months will make up for that fee and more, but you’ll need to spend enough on eligible categories the following year to earn enough miles to overtake the annual fee.

Southwest Rapid Rewards points are worth roughly 1.5 cents each. To make up for the annual fee, you’d need to earn roughly 10,000 miles. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card thankfully offers a 7,500 point annual anniversary bonus, meaning you’ll just need to spend enough to earn 2,500 points.

PurchasesCostPoints earned
Southwest flights$8001,600
Hotels$200400
Other$500500
Total$1,5002,500

You asked, we listened: Top 5 common questions

With so many airline credit cards to choose from, it’s only natural to have some questions. Here are the 5 most common questions we receive on the subject.

  1. How much are credit card airline miles worth? The ultimate value of an airline mile can vary greatly depending on the specific loyalty program and how you redeem your miles.
  2. Can I get an airline credit card with bad credit? Most airline credit cards require a good or better credit score. However, you can still use another type of credit card for your airline purchases.
  3. What kinds of airline cards are there? Airline credit cards come in two varieties: cobranded, which are released under the umbrella of a specific airline, and general, which can be used on any airline.
  4. Do I need a frequent flyer number to use an airline card? Only if you’re using a cobranded credit card. These cards need to be linked to your frequent flyer number to generate miles and provide rewards.
  5. What’s the difference between airline credit cards and travel credit cards? Airline credit cards generate miles and offer rewards specifically for flights. Travel credit cards offer general “points” that can be used on airlines as well as other travel options, such as hotels and cruises.

Read more about airline credit cards

Sarah Barness

Sarah Barness
Credit Cards Editor

Hi, I’m Sarah! Since I often visit family that lives 3,000 miles away, having a great airline card in my wallet is a must. I look for cards without annual fees and simple rewards structures to earn points for my airline of choice. I love comparing airline cards to find the best options. Here are some articles that might answer the questions you have.

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Bottom line

If you want to earn flexible points or miles on flights, consider a general travel credit card. If you’re loyal to a certain airline, you might like a cobranded card.

Not sure if an airline card is right for you? Check out our guide to travel credit cards for more options.

Credit card ratings

★★★★★ — Excellent

★★★★★ — Good

★★★★★ — Average

★★★★★ — Subpar

★★★★★ — Poor

Our team evaluates credit cards to determine their value against similar cards on the market.

We rank card types — travel, cash back, business — on a set of factors that are most relevant to that type of card. We create these rankings to help you narrow down a credit card that best suits your spending and budget.

Learn the details of our methodology and scoring.

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